Day 9 – Fidel’s House, Chess & Chickens

23 Mar

We all started off from the villa at some ungodly hour – having been woken at 6:30am by a knock on the door. Breakfast of scrambled eggs was consumed with both eyes shut.

We crammed 11 people into a Ssongyang again and headed up the steepest road in Cuba – on average 45% gradient. That means at least half of it was near vertical.

After thankfully only a few minutes we reached 700m higher than we started, at 950m and the entrance to the Pico Torquino national park.

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Misty mountains

We started walking in the cool of the morning with the misty mountains of the Sierra Maestre all around us.  I had thankfully chosen not to carry a rucsac today but was carrying only a bottle of frozen water and a towel.

We headed down the rocky path and through mostly shady forest until we reached the family home of the Medinas – one of two families who helped Castro and the rebel army by allowing them to stay on their land and helping with supplies.

We then paid a photo tax, without a receipt, to the family.  I wonder if that will go to the government.  Hmmmm.

Several muddy arribas later, and we arrived at checkpoint number 1. Or so the post said. Looked like an empty shack to me.

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Improvised Fidel beard

Shortly thereafter, someone had gone wild with a lawnmower and got rid of half the forest to allow a makeshift helicopter landing pad to be made for visiting dignitaries.  The museum close by was closed, so we got distracted into bird watching with our local guide, Miguel. He carried recorded bird songs on his mobile which seemed to have zero effect in attracting others.  Perhaps he was playing the mating call of the turkey vulture.

Further on we arrived at the hospital shack, also used as a press room by Castro to publish a newspaper. Che Guevara was the doctor who didn’t fix anyone there.  They were transported for miles to get here and were basically dead without the facilities for blood transfusions. There was a cemetery nearby.

Only 12-13 of the senior commanders lived here.  350 others survived in hammocks in the jungle.

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Me outside Fidel's hideout

Walking on to Fidel’s house, we saw his double bed – for him and his rifle – and his bullet ridden kerosene fridge. The 2 room house had 7 exits and a trapdoor. Paranoid or what.

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Fidel's fridge

Shortly after, Fidel’s throne was still available for use. 

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Fidel's throne

After several other buildings, we headed back to the family house and received banana and coffee as a much needed refreshment.  By this time the heat of the day had come and sweat was beginning to appear everywhere on everyone.

Four hours after we had started we were back waiting for the cars to take us down the mountain to the villa, where the shower once again dribbled on me.  After lunch (the same as yesterday’s tea) we packed ourselves and our bags into the cars for a 25 minute trip back to the bus, to continue to Santiago de Cuba.

Ernesto gave some personal details of the Castro family and a bit more background to some of the main figures, but it all went over my head, as I was sitting trying to catch up on much needed sleep.

The bus took 3 hours to get to Santiago and our hotel next to the zoo. Not roosters or dogs we have to worry about waking us up now! I managed to sleep most of the way.

This was a very touristy hotel and quite a contrast to the previous few days.

Damien and I decided to skip the group meal and headed into town in a Lada taxi – old car, new stereo system.

Driver was very friendly and decided not to rob us on this occasion. He dropped us in what we presumed was the central square. 

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National Orchestra

The national brass band were playing some classical tunes, whilst lots of locals and tourists mingled in the square.

Within minutes Damien had been offered a taxi back and we perhaps should have taken it. It was impossible to walk unaccompanied in the square without someone trying to get you to eat in their restaurant, take a taxi, go to a disco or other music venue, or look at pictures of prostitutes that were available.

We did several laps of the surrounding block to try and orientate ourselves and escape the peddlers. We did find the Adidas and Reebok shops.

Back in the square, we tried to find a seat to appreciate the music.  At that point the third best chess player in Cuba just happened to be passing and challenged me to a game.  How could I refuse? Only a few minutes later and several pesos lighter he was trying to persuade me to buy some milk for his 4 year old twins and a chicken for himself. He was also quite desperate for me to visit his house so that his wife could cook a meal for me. Muy loco.

After shaking him off, I found Damien swapping phone numbers with a scantily dressed, yet somehow buxom local – and rescued him.  Actually I think I rescued her.

We agreed that the best option was to avoid the square and headed to a local restaurant that also did food. Eventually.

Two ham chops later and we were full without needing to visit a cash machine again.

We briefly met the chessnut again and he bought peanuts for us – obviously not needing money for that chicken after all!

After briefly trying to find a suitable music venue down some back alleys, we gave up and found a lada taxi to take us back to the hotel, where hands were disinfected after the numerous people that continually took hold of them.

Well off the beaten track today!

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